By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A long convoy transporting Wagner troops entered Belarus from Russia on July 15, the independent Belarusian military monitoring project Belaruski Hayun reported.
The column included at least 60 vehicles, including pickups, large trucks, vans, and at least three buses, and was escorted by Belarusian traffic police, Belaruski Hayun said in a tweet.
The convoy was headed in the direction of Tsel, a village 90 kilometers southeast of Minsk where a tent encampment capable of holding as many as 15,000 people had recently been set up by the Belarusian authorities.
The video footage of the alleged convoy comes a day after the Belarusian Defense Ministry television channel showed Wagner instructors training Belarusian territorial defense forces in Tsel.
The fate of Wagner troops has been enveloped in a deep fog since its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a short-lived mutiny on June 23-24 in the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 23 years in power.
Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed he helped end the mutiny by agreeing with Prigozhin and Putin to host the Wagner troops in Belarus.
Days after Lukashenka’s statement, a tent camp began going up in Tsel, a former garrison for members of a Belarusian missile brigade.
Wagner troops played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, helping take Bakhmut after nearly 10 months of intense fighting. The mercenary group lost 20,000 men in the process, according to Prigozhin.
The Wagner leader gained popularity among Russian military bloggers for his frank comments on the course of the war.
He often publicly criticized Russia’s military leadership in crude terms. Putin sought to reign him in by agreeing to subordinate Wagner to the Defense Ministry.
To protest that decision, Prigozhin launched his mutiny.
What happens next with Wagner troops and Prigozhin is unclear.
Wagner had 25,000 fighters under its command, Prigozhin claimed at the time of his mutiny. However, that number has not been verified.
Russia is facing manpower issues and can’t afford to disband Wagner, which is considered one of the most experienced and disciplined units, military experts said.
Putin on July 14 said Wagner troops could keep fighting in Ukraine but without Prigozhin as their leader. Wagner forces did not appear to be fighting in a major capacity at the moment, the Pentagon said a day earlier.
While some have speculated that Wagner troops could try to invade Ukraine from Belarus, military experts said that Russia would need a force of 30,000 or more to have any chance of succeeding with such a venture.
Lukahsenksa said on June 27 that he would like Wagner troops to train his own forces, but he gave no indication how many of the mercenaries he would be willing to host on his soil.
Amid speculation that could be a threat to his own hold on power, he said, “We will keep a close eye on them.”